Day Three of our New York Adventure was a busy one for the show choir kids. They were afforded a small amount of time to look around following their choir performance at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine. We all hopped back on the bus then headed downtown to the Marriott Marquis for Rachel and Jimmy’s solo competition performances. Once the solo comp was finished the entire group had to stay at the Marriott for an afternoon filled with seminars. The adults had the afternoon free to do whatever we wanted.
Most of the parents and their younger kids stayed near the Marriott for some shopping or to relax during our downtime. A few others ventured out a little bit further with no particular agenda in mind. I set out by myself, having known since last August what I was going to do with this window of opportunity.
The one change I allowed myself was a block away at the Discovery Times Square exhibition center. Harry Potter: The Exhibition was in just its fourth day of a five-month run at the center.
All I knew about the exhibit was the following:
- I love the Harry Potter books and movies,
- Maggie and Abby love the Harry Potter books and movies,
- Maggie and Abby would be pissed that I went to the exhibit when they couldn’t, ergo…
- I had to go.
The exhibit was full props and costumes from all of the movies, the last of which – Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – was due to be released in three months. There was a Sorting Hat for sorting people into their appropriate Hogwarts House. There were magic wands, the Marauder’s Map, and lots of Quidditch gear on display. There were hands-on displays and games for kids to experience. The girls would have loved it all. Unfortunately for me, the exhibit had one other thing.
It had a huge crowd. I hate huge crowds.
I convinced myself that most of the stuff on display was not really from the movies but was a bunch of cheap knockoffs. I hurriedly shuffled through the crowd to get to the obligatory gift shop.
The gift shop was pretty cool. It was divided into two sections. One section was set up like Diagon Alley, replete with wands and other doodads for the young wizards and witches. The other section was for Muggles. The girls would have gone apeshit both of the stores.
I didn’t buy anything in either store. Anything I may have wanted was too expensive, in my opinion. I left the store and made a beeline back to Broadway to get back to what I really wanted to do, which was to compare my memories of 1981 with the reality of today.
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I stood in front of the Minskoff Theater to get my bearings and to get a really good look at Times Square. The changes made in thirty years were too numerous to realize them all. The first thing I noticed was the giant neon Coke sign was gone, replaced by what must have been a High Definition video screen. The static Coke logo of the past had given way to the ever-changing display of today. As a matter of fact, it appeared that a large majority of the neon signs had been replaced by the giant video screens.
Most of the old school signage that once hung above the store fronts had been replaced by garish signs. Large billboards were still in use. If anything, it seemed there were more billboards than I remembered. Virtually every stage production along “The Great White Way” was advertised.
Gone were the sex shops and theaters of the past. The spaces they once occupied were now filled with such places as the Disney Store, an M&M’s Store, and a Lego Store. It didn’t bother me at all that the seedier aspects of Times Square were gone, but I wasn’t so sure that the over-sterilization was necessarily a great solution.
I moseyed down up from 45th Street to 47th. It occurred to me that this some lanes in this section of Broadway had been closed off and turned into pedestrian plazas. Seating was made available in the open plazas and street musicians entertained the masses. There were idiots dressed up as Spider-Man and Elmo and other such characters. They posed with passersby for photos, all for a tip, of course.
I looked around at the myriad changes. There were too many buildings I didn’t recognize. The over-commercialization of 2011 dwarfed the over-commercialization of 1981. It was fascinating, beautiful, and exciting and it left a fetid aroma lingering in my nose.
After finishing my walk to 47th Street, I turned left. I walked the half-block down to the one sight that, to my delight, seemingly hadn’t changed – the Hotel Edison.
From cross the street the old girl looked just as I remembered. Outside the hotel, there stood a group of high school kids milling about. I grinned at the memory of doing the same some thirty years earlier and wondered what grand adventure lay in store for them in the city. The crowd at the front door thinned out so I crossed the street and entered the lobby of the Edison.
The first thing that struck me was the size of the lobby. It seemed smaller than I remembered. There was, of course, the distinct possibility that it had been remodeled over the years. Certainly the carpeting and furniture had been replaced. The small shop where the nice girl had given me some buttons looked smaller, as well, with no counter.
I spent a few more minutes in the lobby of the Edison. The hubbub of the students and their chaperones kept me entertained during my visit. I checked my phone and found that I still had plenty of time to complete the one thing I wanted to do the most while here in Midtown Manhattan.
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I left the Edison and walked back to Broadway, retracing the steps I took during my last morning in the Big Apple in 1981. Turning onto Broadway, I walked down to its intersection with 7th Avenue. I continued down 7th for a block or two then stopped to look up at the Empire State Building.
It wasn’t there.
I scratched my head and looked around to see if I was in the right spot. Nothing looked the same. With my mind’s eye I envisioned the walk from thirty years ago. I could see the old Coke neon sign in the distance. Judging by the current version of the sign, I had to be in the same general area. I continued another block. Still no Empire State Building. It finally struck me that the skyline had changed drastically since my first walk down 7th Avenue and now obscured the landmark.
Turning around, I walked back to the previous block. Once there, I looked to skies, closed my eyes, and remembered that last morning in June of 1981. A foolish grin spread across my face.
When I opened my eyes I scanned the passersby with the silly thought that I might recognize the face of the friend I had made way back when.